In the late Spring of 1937, the murder of a young Italian immigrant stormed the paris headlines. The first murder to have taken place on the Metro, it was a baffling affair with no witnesses and a murder of unusual precision. As the country mired in political turmoil, newspapers filled their columns with rumours of the victims life, quickly filling the information void with sensational stories of divey music halls, gangsters and allusions to sordid affairs. The truth, however, would turn out to be far more bombastic than even the most spurious rumours, leading to the slow unravelling of a story of clandestine intelligence, assassinations and a plot to overthrow the government.
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The Laetitia Toureaux Affair
In the late Spring of 1937, the murder of a young Italian immigrant stormed the paris headlines. The first murder to have taken place on the Metro, it was a baffling affair with no witnesses and a murder of unusual precision. As the country mired in political turmoil, newspapers filled their columns with rumours of the victims life, quickly filling the information void with sensational stories of divey music halls, gangsters and allusions to sordid affairs. The truth, however, would turn out to be far more bombastic than even the most spurious rumours, leading to the slow unravelling of a story of clandestine intelligence, assassinations and a plot to overthrow the government. This is Dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
After the conclusion of the first world war in 1918, Post war society across Europe, whilst enjoying a short-lived optimism, quickly fell into a mire of complex social and political transformations across countries. In France, casualties from the war and the Spanish Flu were on a scale not seen or felt for generations, with the nation losing over 10% of it’s adult workforce to the fighting alone. The pandemic that swept across borders shortly after the war’s conclusion only worked to worsen an already difficult and precarious economic position that saw countries struggle to climb up from their knees. Despite this, the French population grew slowly, but steadily, with economic stability following just behind.
By the time of the roaring twenties, the economy had begun to grow rapidly. Communist unions had flourished whilst industrial output grew at a rate that, along with expansive social and cultural innovation, helped to cover up a veritable birdsnest of political turmoil that bubbled violently under the surface. The prosperity of the French Empire and the worldwide renown of Parisian culture going some lengths to mask the unease felt towards the rise of communism and fascism that stoked the fires of the socialists and industrialists.
Whilst France had initially welcomed immigration after the war in efforts to kickstart a heavily diminished workforce, by the 1930’s, as the effects of the Great Depression began to be felt by the French, the easy-going policy became a source of widespread tension as xenophobia and suspicion fed on the economic tightening caused by the global crash. In 1930, 7% of the French population were immigrants that had flocked towards Paris looking for work after the first World War, one million of which were from Italy, who left their home country in ever larger numbers, many attempting to distance themselves from Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship.
Outside of the French borders, Communists in Russia, Fascists in Spain and Italy and the ever growing threat of war from a German nation who were finding their own way to deal with economic depression through Hitlers increasingly popular Nazi party. This turmoil was mirrored within France itself. Widespread unemployment and an increasing lack of confidence in the ruling party fueled the rise of extreme groups on both the left and right. Communists, Fascists, socialists and industrialists vied for a controlling hand in the future of the nation, which often led to outbreaks of protest that quickly turned to violence. Scandals in the French government led to violent riots incited by numerous right wing groups that saw French police opening fire on its own citizens. Counter protests from the left, who saw the fascists of the right as a threat and revolution as a solution, only led to more violence so that by the elections of 1936, the divisions across the country bordered on civil war. The left-wing victory of the Front Populaire in the elections, a unified group of Communists and Socialists, allied against Fascism and headed by Leon Blum, a moderate Jewish Socialist, was largely seen as a political response to the widespread fear of fascism in France, but the honeymoon for the left was short lived. Blum’s government dissolved far-right leagues outright, banning them from operating, pushing many on the right towards activism, whilst the Spanish Civil war caused further division, as groups from both the left and right saw the governments neutral, anti-interventionist position as weak.
Amongst all of this, the people of France largely continued to live their lives. In Paris, Balenciaga and Coco Chanel moved closer to their wealthy clientele, lining the champs elysees with their chic style. Surrealism and cubism bewildered and inspired as the likes of Salvador Dali and Man Ray painted scenes soundtracked by Django Reinhardt and Edith Piaf, it was, as Ernest Hemingway described it, “a moveable feast”. For the ordinary men and women, life is less romanticised, living in cooped up, old brick apartments. They worked hard in factories, danced to Jazz in music halls, watched American made movies and read crime stories on the metro. Laetitia Toureaux was an Italian born immigrant living in Paris in 1937 doing much the same, at least, until she was murdered whilst riding the metro one night in May. Working out precisely how ordinary she was, however, is a story much more complicated.
The Murder of Laetitia Toureaux
Laetitia Nourrisat was born on September 11th, 1907 in Oyache, a small, rural Italian town in the North-Eastern Val d’Aosta region, close to the border of France and Switzerland. One of the smallest and least densely populated regions of Italy, the people living there spoke French and Italian, due to the long running back and forth of control throughout history by both France and Italy. Life there was working at a pace dangerously close to reverse, with the economy driven by the production of butter, cheese and wine and cattle farming. Laetitias upbringing was unspectacular, her father, a veteran of the First World War, worked as a farmer and construction worker and the family lived a modest life. Brought up by her mother, Marie, largely alone, the family was close and their surroundings peaceful.
In 1921, however, the Nourrissat family embarked on a familiar journey to many in the region when they emigrated to France. The Val d’Aosta had been shedding its population across the border since the 19th Century, a natural move for a people who were, in many respects, as French as they were Italian and with the slow economy of the area, the promise of a more prosperous future in France and the regions strong anti-fascist culture, heading towards Paris was was a move taken on both an economical and political level. Laetitia along with her mother, sister, Simone and two brothers, Henri and Virgille, all moved to Lyon, leaving their father behind in Italy, claiming he preferred the simple, rural life and had “a horror of the big cities,” though in reality it was for all intents and purposes a marital separation. Laetitias mother soon took a lover in France and the rest of the family, except Laetitia, who visited her father yearly, broke all ties. It was an unsteady few years for the family in France and by 1925, after her mother split with her French lover, they moved to Paris, where the Italian emigrant community thrived. Once in Paris, they settled down in the lively 12th arrondissement, a working class district with a large Italian presence on the Eastern side of the city on the Northern bank of the Siene and home to the Gare de Lyon.
By 1926 Laetitias life had become firmly entrenched in the Parisian lifestyle. She worked in the factories around her home and it only became richer when she met and fell in love with Jules Tourreaux, the son of a wealthy industrialist, sixteen years her senior. The pair struck up a clandestine relationship, hidden from Jules parents who would no doubt have frowned upon their son dating a young, Italian immigrant who worked in the very factory that they themselves owned. After a courtship of several years, the couple married in secret to everyone, but Laetitias father, on December 21st, 1929. The marriage, happy as it was, however, was tragically all too brief, as Jules fell ill, suffering from tuberculosis and passed away in 1934. On his deathbed, he revealed his marriage to his parents, but as he had feared, they refused to accept or recognise it, abandoning Laetitia, now a 22 year old widow with no inheritance. Once more, Laetitia found herself on the bottom rung of French society. She moved into an apartment in the 20th arrondissement, neighbouring her mother, decorating the place with the few items of furniture that she had managed to take possession of after her husband’s untimely death.
During her time together with Jules, she was introduced to the Parisian world of the Bal Musette, small music halls that opened afternoon and night, the diverse patrons whiling away the hours dancing to accordion driven waltzes and polkas. For the upper classes, they were a place to slum it and experience the excitement and culture of the dancers, artists and gangsters, whilst for the working classes, they were a place to socialise and mingle with a different sort. In the daytime they catered towards young men and women looking for partners, whilst the evening dances stepped into seedier territories, as the darkened rooms grew ever more smoke filled, with gangsters, prostitutes and political activists making up a good deal of the clientele. Laetitia had instantly found the culture of the Bal Musette enrapturing, whether it was the dancing, the music, which was often performed by Italian immigrants, or the feeling of finding a home, there she found the second love of her life. After Jules death, she continued to spend much of her free time frequenting the venues. By day, her life was dictated by work, where she toiled in a wax polish factory, but once her shift was done and as the night fell over Paris, she quickly found herself back at the bal musette. She spent so much time there, in fact, that eventually, she wound up working at several, either as a cloakroom attendant, or employed by the hall to dance with single men. Known amongst the crowds as Yolande, she distracted herself from mourning her husband by dancing to the upbeat drones of the accordion.
Life continued peacefully, both for Laetitia, who was well known and well liked around her home and for her alter ego Yolande throughout the world of the Bal Musette, where she was equally well regarded. Peacefully until one week in May of 1937, when she was attacked twice within the space of seven days, once outside her home by a man wielding a knife and a second time, when two men attempted to drag her into their car as she walked home. Still, she was made of tougher stuff and her life in the 12th arrondissement and more recently, the Bal Musette had thickened her skin enough for her to laugh off both occasions, at least in public. The events had shaken her more than she cared to admit, however and her response of taking to carrying an umbrella to fend off any would be attackers, was, in reality, a small comfort.
The weekend of Sunday the 16th May, 1937 was a national holiday throughout France. The grey skies that hung across the city did little to dampen the mood of the crowds who were enjoying the long weekend and the comfort of knowing that they had no work to wake up for in the morning. Laetitia spent the morning with her youngest brother, Henri, who had visited her apartment to deliver a vivid green skirt and jacket, made by her mother. After she had dressed in the green suit, fur stole, white hat and gloves and secured a pin of the Ligue Republicaine du Bien Publique, a French left-wing political group she had recently become a member of, to her breast, they went for a drink at the Chez Madame Giroldo Bistro and then paid a visit to a hair salon, where Henri got a haircut and Laetitia had her hair set in fingerwaves and dyed blonde, a bold change to the naturally dark waves she normally sported. Afterwards, the pair took lunch at their family home with their mother and then took a taxi to the L’Ermitage, a large Bal Musette, to dance the afternoon away and support their mutual friend who was performing the afternoons music. As the evening fell, Laetitia excused herself, stepping out from the dance hall at 6pm in order to return home and change so that she could meet with the rest of her family at a banquet being held for a public service organisation for Italian immigrants. At 6:19pm, she stepped on the bus that would take her from Chateau Gallard to the Porte de Charenton metro station, a route she travelled frequently and thus, knew well. She flashed a smile at the familiar face of the bus driver as she stepped onto the bus, but sat alone and spoke to no one around her, departing from the bus just minutes later arriving at the metro. By now the grey skies hanging above the city had collapsed and a heavy rain had begun to fall, so dashing into the metro station, Laetitia waited for the train, which arrived promptly at 6:25. She stepped into the empty, first class car, a small comfort that she would treat herself to from time-to-time and sat down with her back to the packed second class car behind. At 6:27 the train pulled out of the station, arriving at the next, Porte Doree, less than a minute later. As it slowed down to approach the station, two men standing in the second class car, Raymond Bruel and Andre Lejeune, thought they heard the screams of a woman coming from the car in front, so as they pulled in to a standstill, they rushed out onto the platform and back into the first class car to see if they might be able to help anyone who may have been in distress. At the same time, a middle aged man, Raymond Dubreil, boarded the car via the lower doors along with his fiancee and their friend, whilst a trio of prostitutes, Elizabeth Guy, Mary Catin and Yvette Bailey boarded the car via the second set of doors that sat towards the front. Once inside the car, all three groups of people were confronted with a scene far and away from that which they had expected. On the floor, dressed in a vivid green skirt and jacket with white hat and gloves, lay Laetitia Toureaux as if she had slipped from her seat, gasping for air with a knife driven into her throat down to the hilt, one of her gold earrings lying next to her in a pool of blood. A metro worker dashed to fetch a police officer, returning with Inspector lavaille, who he met outside the station, moments later. Lavaille leant over Laetitia and asked her who had stabbed her, but Laetitia, teetering on the edge of life and death, was unable to sound an answer. The officer took hold of the knife handle and dislodged the blade from her throat, however, far from helping, it only opened the wound, which expelled blood across the floor of the train car as her jugular severed. By the time Laetitia Toureaux reached the hospital, she was long deceased.
Press & Police Investigation
The police investigation into the murder of Latitia Toureaux began almost immediately, before her body had even reached the hospital. Shortly after the discovery, Chief Inspector Monsieur Andre Billet and Inspector Chaillet joined Inspector Lavaille on the station platform where statements were taken from the three prostitutes who had boarded the car and discovered the attack. As some of a very small group of witnesses, police had high hopes for their observations, though they were quickly dashed, as none of the group had seen anyone else either step off from the train as it pulled into the station, nor on board the train car itself. The other group of people who had boarded the train, Raymond Dubreuil, his fiancee and their friend, had left both the train car and the metro station quickly in order to avoid becoming wrapped up in the affair and so the police were forced to track them down, which they promptly managed. Upon questioning the light footed witness, Raymond told them that he had left quickly after seeing that their was no hope for the victim of the attack, both in order to shield his fiancee from any scandal that might arise from the murder and to allow him to rush home and change his clothes, which had been stained by blood from the train car, in the hopes that they could still make it to the play that they had been on the way to attend before they were sidetracked. Despite this flimsy excuse, police never questioned the group further. There was a method to this lax attitude, however, that ruled anyone in the group out of suspicion. Very quickly the inspectors at the scene had made a group of assumptions based on the crime scene. Firstly, they assumed that the killer had been a man of some strength as he had been able to drive the knife into Laetitias throat down to the hilt in a moving train car. Secondly, the murder itself had reminded them of Italian style assassinations of the day, where a stiletto was commonly used to stab people in the neck, the weapon then being left behind as a macarbe marker. This was a line of thought further emboldened after the inspectors rifled through Laetitias purse, discovering her ID and identifying her as an Italian immigrant. Alongside the ID card, they also found an amount of cash, which seemed to rule out robbery as motive, a first class train ticket and a letter confirming a meeting with a man named Jean at 10pm that night. This early theory was then given further credence by Doctor Charles Paul, who carried out the autopsy on Toureaux, finding no marks upon her body and confirmed that the cause of death had been a knife wound, entering the throat from behind the right ear, severing the jugular and embedding the tip of the blade into the spinal column. Quickly ruling out suicide, Dr Paul instead told the police that he believed it to have been a professional killing, the murderer approaching Laetitia from the rear, where he grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her to the left and plunged the knife into her neck, possibly leaving the weapon in the wound in order to keep the scene as clean as possible. With such a quick, precise killing, the police were convinced that it had been a professional execution and so began to focus their investigative efforts upon their earliest suspicions of the involvement of organised crime.
This early theory did hit a small, temporary bump after the police visited Toureaux’s apartment. Inside they found a modestly decorated and consisting of an entryway, small kitchen and a single bedroom. It was here that they discovered the truth about her marriage to Jules and consequent widowing and also of her position at the Maxi polish factory. In a drawer in the bedroom they uncovered a stash of letters, apparently sent to Toureaux from men they assumed to be her lovers. The first, was a man named Jean Martin, a sailor stationed at Toulon and the man with whom the letter in her purse had arranged a meeting on the night of the murder. The pair had met at the Bal Musette, but Jean had been drafted into the Navy soon after. The police tracked him down for questioning, but were told in no uncertain terms that the pair had not, in fact, been lovers at all. Jean explained that he had met Toureaux only very recently and though they had been on friendly terms, with no doubt one eye on creating something more, nothing had transpired as of yet. Far from the jealous lover they had suspected, Martin was dropped entirely from suspicion once police checked with ihs military timetable, confirming that he had not been given leave and was thus, on base at the time of the murder. A similar story took place with the second man they tracked from the letters, named Rene Schramm. The vast majority of letters, numbering into the twenties, had come from Rene and it was clear that this pair were more closely linked than Toureaux and Martin. Rene freely admitted to have become Tourreauxs lover after they had met, once more, at the bal Musette in June of 1936. The letters confirmed that it was, perhaps, not the most secure relationship and Rene, who was younger than Toureaux, was clearly not a long term plan, however, just as was with Martin, police quickly confirmed that he had been on base during the time of the murder, thus allowing him to be once more confidently ruled out.
The police next investigated the train car, which had been parked and stored in the garage area of the metro station. On board, they found little to give them any clues. Fingerprints were found on the back bar of the seat behind Toureaux, but none were found on the knife, suggesting that the prints on the bar would not have corresponded to those of the killer, who had likely been wearing gloves. The murder weapon itself, a common brand 8” knife with 3.5” blade and bone handle, was of a common brand and though the police traced its sale to only two stores in Paris, both were large discounters that sold in bulk to industry and restaurants and therefore did not keep detailed records of individual transactions.
It was all very quickly turning into a blank slate for the investigating officers who had a muder on their hands without a single witness. No one appeared to have been seen getting in or out of the first class car around the time of the murder, except Toureaux herself. The murder must have been quick, taking no more than 90 seconds, the slowest the journey between stations could have been, leaving behind no fingerprints and no other clues. It was looking more and more like the perfect crime, which is, of course, just what the press called it.
In England, the papers reported on the murder of Laetitia Toureaux in scant detail, allowing little more space than it took to explain that a woman had been murdered on the metro. In France, however, it was naturally a much bigger story and the Parisian journalists were naturally quick to pick the story up and run with it. In the 1930s, the French press were well known for digging into a good crime story and the jibe from the English side was that they often put more effort into solving crimes than the French police. The murder by itself was enough of a story to egg the journalists on, given that it was the first murder to have taken place on the Paris Metro since it began operation in 1900, that the murder was as yet, a complete mystery and had taken place in such baffling circumstances just added to the hunger for the tale.
The murder of Laetitia Toureaux was quickly dubbed “The Murder on the Metro” and all manner of detail and rumour pertaining to the young victims life was poured over, looked into and prematurely printed up to a public who read about the crime with keen interest. Most of the earliest reports focused on Toureauxs personal life, painting her as a young, beautiful innocent who had been well liked and well meaning in everything she did. Close with her family, who all said that she was always, right up to the day of her death, happy and carefree, it seemed as if even the strangers in her neighbourhood enjoyed seeing her pass by with her radiant smile. A hard worker, they interviewed her boss at the Maxi factory, who had nothing but praise for her diligence,
“I owe it to the memory of such a perfectly dignified and respectable person as Mme. Toureaux to declare all the good everyone here thought of her. I hired her last November 1st as a probationary employee whose duties consisted of gluing the labels on glass jars. She worked in a shop with about twenty workers, under the orders of a forewoman. We quickly noticed her intelligence and dili- gence. Also, considering her a particularly talented colleague, we chose her to represent us as a demonstrator of Maxi products in our booth at the last Salon of Homemaking Arts. She carried out her duties with great spirit and success.”
Devoted to her dead husband, she had apparently worn black ever since his passing and visited his grave every Sunday since his death. It didn’t take long, however, for this narrative to begin to unravel and the story to begin turning towards one of an ambitious social climber, hinting at immoral promiscuity. If, as her parents had told the press, she had always worn black and visited her husband’s grave every Sunday, why did she do neither of these things on the day of her death? Furthermore she had been a frequent patron of the divey Bal Musettes where she displayed the veneer of a lifestyle far above her real station, from where did she make the money that would have been needed to run such a lifestyle? It didn’t take long for the allusions to Toureaux leading a seedier double life to hit the fore, whether or not the facts fit. The letters found in her apartment, mostly from the same two men, one of which was a lover and a second of which a friend, became a trove of love letters written by a long string of scorned lovers, whilst her time spent at the Bal Musette was steered in a direction very close to suggesting that Toureaux had perhaps been working as a prostitute, or at the very least, was familiar with the seedier elements of the Parisian nightlife. They quickly uncovered that she had worked in the cloakrooms from time to time and then followed this up with stories of her being caught rifling through the pockets of the clientele whilst they danced the evening away, completely unawares. One of the more spectacular suggestions was that as an Italian Immigrant who visited her father once per year, she was potentially earning extra money from running drugs over the border. Why did she keep such odd hours, use two names and rub shoulders with the gangsters of the music halls? In this world of cocaine, opium, prostitutes and hit men, she was presented as having lived a life of increasingly loose morals.
As for the murder itself, two popular theories surfaces. The first suggested that Toureaux had been killed on the train before it even left the station in Porte de Charenton, positing that the killer had jumped onto the train, quickly stabbed Toureaux and then departed the car before it departed, explaining why no one saw anyone leave the car upon its arrival in Port Doree, just a minute later. The problem with this first theory, is that there was still no witnesses who saw anyone but Toureaux step onto the train in Charenton, further, the two men from the second class carriage who discovered her body after the attack had said they were alerted to it via a scream they had heard as the train approached Port Doree. If the killer had chosen to take this route, it would also have been incredibly high risk, as he would have been quickly trapped inside the car had anything not gone as planned.
The second theory suggested she was killed whilst the train was in motion between the two stations, slipping between the cars via the connecting door and departing from the second class train in Port Doree. This theory instantly gave rise to issues, however, namely that no one saw anyone do such a thing during the journey and the door itself had been locked, which was confirmed by the police, who also noted that the lock had not shown any sign of having been tampered with.
Whilst the press rumours and theories may have left much to be desired, they did touch on an uncomfortable truth. If, as the police themselves were theorising, the murder had been a professional hit, then there was clearly more to the life of Laetitia Toureaux than met the eye. Professionals didn’t make a habit of killing random, good natured citizens, for no reason, so what was it that set Toureaux apart? As it happened, the truth was slowly being touched upon and as much as the press stories until now had seemed to focus on salacious rumour and sensational intrigue, the truth was turning out to be far more so.
The Real Life of Laetitia Toureaux
On May 27th 1937, the Murder in the Metro case hit the cover story of popular French crime periodical, “Detective”, founded in 1928 to cpaitalise on the voracious interest in crime stories that crowded the newspapers. Threatening to “raise the veil on the strange life of Laetitia Toureaux”, it uncovered the first of what would become several sources of extra income for Toureaux. She had, it was discovered, been on the books of one Agence Rouff, a private detective agency owned and operated by Georges Rouffignac, where she worked under the pseudonym of Yolande. Since the summer of 1936, she had taken on several low-key jobs mostly dealing with tailing men under suspicion of adultery. In itself, it was not as sensational as it first may have seemed, but once the story began to unravel, far more trails opened up, leading to much more spectacular revelations. Rouffignac himself, it seemed, was not the most reliable witness and his testimony pertaining to his dealings with Toureaux were shady at best. In his early stories, he told of how Toureaux had given him the impression she was a reliable sleuth, giving him the impression that she was “well acquainted with the detective profession well before she began to practice it in my service.” Within two days, however, his story had changed and he now suggested that she was amateur at best, routinely bungled reports and only worked for him on a handful of occasions. This, however, failed to meet with new facts that were nwo coming to light. Firstly, that her job at the Maxi factory was not quite what it first seemed and she had been recommended to the boss there by Rouffignac himself, when they came to him to find a worker who could double up as an informer to spy on the communist unions in the workforce. If she had been such a bungler, would Rouffignac have really recommended her for such a position? Secondly, her job at the Bal Musettes were similarly set up by Rouffignac and though it was possible that these jobs had been simply part of her trailing of suspected adulterers, the cloakrooms of the music halls were well known to be centres of information, used to pass on correspondence to gangs and political groups throughout the city. In the very least, Rouffignac’s later testimonies were seemingly playing down his involvement with Toureaux and her level of importance as an informant.
The next and far more provocative detail that was further uncovered to come out concerning Toureaux and her association with Agence Rouff, involved her recent inauguration into the Ligue Republicaine du Bien Public, the left-wing group whose pin badge she wore on her breast on the day of her murder. Membership to the group required two vouches of good character from present members, one of which, it turned out, was Goerges Rouffignac, the other being a police inspector, Monsieur Cettour. This link with the police offered a whole new angle and one that was much more juicy than simply following around dirty old men. Had she, as it seemed to be pointing towards, been employed as a police informant, installed within a political organisation to infiltrate and spy on the organisation? Toureaux herself had expressed politically right wing ideas in her private life, so it did now seem somewhat out of step for her to have been a member of a politically left leaning organisation for any other reason.
In response to the rumours circulating wholesale throughout the newspapers, police issued a press release, detailing the facts of the case as they were aware. In it they reiterated that Toureaux had indeed worked for Rouffignac, but her work there involved “individuals of no great importance” and that she had never worked for any other agency. In an effort to play it down further, they stated that her reports whilst working there had held “childish character.” They went on to ensure that her lifestyle was completely in keeping with the money she earned whilst working both at the maxi Factory and her tips from the Bal Musette. “She had absolutely no other source of revenue,” they stated “and her lifestyle corresponded with her income.” Lastly, they attempted to quash suggestions that her murder could be linked with a series of other unsolved murders that had happened earlier that year.
Despite the furour around the case being reported in the press, the reality for the police investigation was that they had very little to work with and as the summer rolled round, the entire affair began to run quiet, at least until July, when a new story broke that presented yet another, more complex, dangerous and even more captivating angle, building on the previous ideas of Toureaux the informant.
On July 16th, 1937, La Liberte, a Parisian left-wing newspaper, published a story on Toureaux that suggested a link between the murder of Laetitia Toureaux and two other, high profile murder cases that had taken place eariler that year. Both murders were of well known emigres, the first being the stabbing of Dmitri Navachine, a Russian economist and the second, the murder of the Roselli brothers, two Italian brothers, one of whom was an anti-facist activist. In both cases, the men had left their home countries after political disagreements had led them to flee and both cases were highly sensitive for France, who was doing everything it could to avoid political tensions with Italy, who were hoping to court the fascist Mussolini government enough to forge an alliance away from Hitlers regime in Germany.
Dmitri Navachine was born in Moscow in 1889 and had lived an upper-class lifestyle, schooling and working within the Russian elite. After the first world war, he had taken on the role of overseeing Russia’s German prisoners of war and then gone on to work high up in the Soviet government throughout the 1920’s. In 1928 he visited Paris, however, and chose to not return to Russia. A leftist, but not a communist, he worked similarly in France, advising the French left government, though many held suspicions that despite his political immigrant status, he was still tied to the Soviets and working as an undercover spy. On the 25th january 1937 he was found stabbed to death with a sawn off French Bayonet, lying on the ground next to his dog, that had been shot.
Nello and Carlo Roselli were Italian born immigrants that had moved to France for political asylum after Carlo Roselli had become an anti-fascist activist, working to smuggle high profile anti-fascist targets out of the country, running an anti-mussolini newspaper and operating in a leading role within a left-wing organisation. Carlo escaped to France after being exiled to a penal colony in 1929, where he continued to fight for the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War against the Fascists, along with producing and disseminating anti-fascist progande across Italy via leaflet drops and newspapers. He was killed as he drove his car down a small country road whilst visiting his sick brother. The pair found themselves suddenly blocked in by a car on the road feigning a breakdown, as Nello stepped out of the car to see what the problem was, he was shot dead and then stabbed by a second man, whilst the shooter leant in to the Roselli’s car, shooting Carlo at the wheel.
In both cases, the murdered men had made strong political enemies both at home and whilst in France, namely those on the right-wing who opposed anti-fascist views. Both murders shared similarities, both in their sensational execution and in the fact that both murders could have been carried out by a whole handful of different groups from almost any political leaning. What both La Liberte and the police were yet to discover, however, was that both murders shared one other similarity, that a man named Jean Filiol, a professional assassin with strong right wing political associations, had been heavily involved in organising and carrying out both.
The political situation in France throughout the 1930’s was nothing short of a complicated web of backstabbing, suspicion, anger and division. In Germany, Hitler was rising to power, threatening war and in Spain, the Republicans were busy fighting the Fascists in a bitter civil war. Meanwhile, the fascists in Italy and the Communists in the Soviet Block had their own French supporters, along with the socialists, industrialists, royalists and nationalists. Protests, industrial strikes and riots were increasingly becoming a common occurrence as was political scandal, culminating in The Stavisky Affair, a financial scandal involving the selling of false bonds under the protection of the French elite, that swept through the ruling government in 1934, instigating many of the higher ups in the scandal and seeing them eventually ousted and replaced by a left wing coalition government, headed up by Leon Blum, in 1936 after a series of violent riots.
The new French government, with their strict anti-interventionist policy, attempted to balance a precarious public position of left leaning moderacy in the vein hope that they could sway as many as possible into an alliance that would stand against the imposing German threat, but in reality, only appeared weak and flimsy, displeasing many more than they hoped to win over.
The Comité secret d’action révolutionnaire, otherwise known as the Cagoule, a far right, fascist political organisation headed by Eugene Deloncle, was officially formed in June 1936, largely as a reaction to the government’s response to the Stavisky affair, which they thought was too passive and from being angered at the left’s gaining of power which they saw as a result. They were funded by industrialists, who were keen on their anti-socialist values and supported by many high ranking military leaders and veterans. With the new left wing government banning the right-wing ligues, a vacuum formed and the Cagoule leveraged the situation to sweep up many who held strong beliefs and who felt they had little or no outlet. The organisation had a membership of several thousand Parisians, organised into small cells who for the most part, supported the groups apparent aims to protect the country from a potential communist threat and due to the clandestine nature and fractured structure, knew little about the true nature of the groups political agenda of overthrowing the government in a violent coup d’etat to install a fascist dictatorship they were intending to run. New members were initiated into the group and given pseudonyms and passwords, with treason punishable by death.
The Cagoule were not just hot air either, they focused on the need for action and they put it to practice with violent immediacy. In August of 1937 they had blown up a hanger of planes that the French had acquired from America with the intention of filtering them through to the Spanish Republicans via a third party country, damaging two and destroying two more. The audacious bombing had been carried out by a man and woman who showed up to the military hangar dressed in uniform, the man claiming to be a captain and stating that the woman he was with had been sexually assaulted by a member of the military. He told those on the base that he needed access to the hangar in order to question the men on the base about the crime. Afraid to ruffle the feathers of a higher up, the pair were allowed into the base, where they promptly set a cluster of time bombs and then left, blowing the hangar later that day. The captain in the whole operation had been none other than Jean Filiol, the Cagoule Assassin.
As autumn fell across Paris, the police investigation into the murder of Laetitia Toureaux had all but dried up, with no new leads surfacing and little information to work with. Despite the links made by La Liberte, no solid evidence had been found that linked the murder with the earlier assassinations and the entire story had ground to a halt. At least, until November, when the Cagoule began to quickly unravel and with it, a series of new revelations were brought into a stark spotlight.
By November of 1937, the Cagoules’ violent operations, including blowing up several buildings in the hopes of creating the impression of a communist conspiracy, had reached a peak such that the police could no longer afford to drag their feet. They infiltrated the group and arrested many high profile members, effectively dismantling the group from within. Amongst those arrested were two who talked of assassinations during their testimonies, including those of Navachine and the Roselli brothers. Somewhat out of left field, however, was the inclusion of the the murder of Laetitia Toureaux, who they told of having been killed by Jean Filiol as part of a Cagoule assassination plot against her.
One of the arrested men, Fernand Jakubiez, an arms runner for the group, told police that Filiol himself had told him that he had carried out the hit upon Toureaux, whilst the second man, Rene Locuty, testified that he had been told the Cagoule had planned the assassination and had tailed her for months.
But what interest did this far right group have in Laetitia Toureaux? As it turned out, all of the sensational articles based on rumour that the press had published since her death, only began to scratch the surface of the truth in the life of the young, Italian Immigrant and the intuition of Rouffignac, that she was “well acquainted with the detective profession” was only the half of it.
The Real REAL Life of Laetitia Toureaux
The final report written by police on the mider case of Laetitia Toureaux stated that every trail of evidence led them to believe that the Cagoule were somehow involved in the murder. Officially unsolved, it is a cold case with no certainties, but much speculation. Through the unravelling of the Cagoule, new angles were opened upon the life of Laetitia Toureaux, but there is still much that we are left to only guess at. With the right wing sympathies she often expressed, it’s often theorised that Toureaux began working as an informant at a much earlier point in time, possibly even whilst she was still just a teenager in the early 1920’s, shortly after her arrival in France, where she began working fo the italian Secret Service as an informant on other immigrants. Her yearly trips to visit her father were a unique opportunity to ferry information across the border to Italy. A list of Italian spies operating in Paris, put together in 1929 was uncovered and sure enough, it contained the name of Toureaux, all but confirming at least some involvement for the italian government. It was also found that for a while, she was the lover of a fascist party member living in Paris. Her work for the italian Secret Service likely led her to working for both Rouffignac and the French police, who sought to downplay her abilities, but in fact were both working to install her within a left-wing organisation as an undercover informant at the time of her death. It is also through Rouffignac and the Bal Musette she so often frequented that led her to becoming involved with the Cagoule. The group were known to frequent the dancehalls and the cloakrooms were commonly used as mail drop sites. The stories that she had been caught with her hands in the pockets of clients jackets that came out early on in the investigation of her murder take on a sinister new light when considering she was more than likely not trying to fleece the owner of the cash from their wallet, but instead, fleece them of information or identity. Furthermore, as more members of the Cagoule were caught up in the police action against the group in November of 1937, rumours grew that Toureaux had made a lover of the highly ranked Gabriel Jeantet, a Cagoulist founding member of the highest rank.
It appeared Laetitia Toureaux was playing a dangerous game, working for several opposing parties, selling information to whoever bore interest enough to pay her for the pleasure. So just who did kill her? There are more or less only two main theories, but neither have any solid conclusion. In the first, there are those that believe in the testimonies given by the Cagoulards after their arrest, that Jean Filiol had carried out the murder as part of a Cagoule plot. This would seem the most simple explanation, but at the same time, it doesn’t exist without problems. Jean Filiol’s previous assassinations were very rarely as clean as the murder of Toureaux, he blew off heads, stabbed his victims with sawn off bayonets and shot their dogs. The murder on the metro was, in stark contrast, quick, quiet and professional far beyond the reaches of the agression normally carried out by the violent assassin. There also exists problems with the original testimonies, one of which appeared to have been taken after a severe beating and the other, which was recanted shortly after being given. Furthermore, the police never officially charged anyone with the murder and the Cagoule never openly admitted to having carried out the assassination, something which they did admit in every other case they were involved in.
In the weeks leading up to her death, it’s likely that Toureaux had sensed she had gotten in over her head. She expressed anxiety to her family and at one point told her younger brother that she was planning on moving to Egypt. It’s possible that the two attacks she suffered in the week prior to her murder were attempts carried out by Filiol. They’re certainly more basic in their execution and the second bore some resemblance to the assassination of the Roselli brothers.
The second theory lies within the Italian Secret Service. Gabriel Jeantet, her cagoulard lover said himself that the ISS had “accounts to settle with her” and it’s possible that she simply became a woman who knew too much. The execution of the murder was certainly more in keeping with the more professional operation. Furthermore, an Italian connection suggests that the police would likely have been aware of such an existence and would more than likely have been pressured to avoid such a link, given the French governments political stance towards Italy and the precarious position they were attempting to balance in keeping the Fascists onside.
In both scenarios, it appears that the murder of Laetitia Toureaux came about due to the complicated political division that existed during the period and the difficult position that she had worked herself into, juggling information for parties on every side of the equation. Her murder case was wraped up with little fanfare and brushed under the carpet, only for files, documents and testimonies to be disappeared in the French houseclearing process that took part after the war, as people in high places attempted to eradicate their sketchy past. Still today there are members of the French elite who are related to those who had a hand in the operations of the Cagoule and as such, it is all the less likely that any new revelations will come about to uncover any more to the story of the young Italian immigrant whose dangerous social ambitions appeared to eventually catch up with her. Her murder is a mystery not just in the baffling execution, which leaves nothing but questions, but also in the hazy watercolour image we are left piecing together of the perpetrator. Whilst it was almost certainly a professional hit, exactly who it was that plotted the affair is a question with no true answer.